Turabi was born in the province of Kassala, in eastern Sudan near the border with Eritrea, around 1932. His father was a judge and expert on sharia law. Sadiq al-Mahdi, former Prime Minister of Sudan, is his brother-in-law. He attended Khartoum University from 1951-1955, graduating with a B.A. degree. University of London 1955-1957 where he earned a M.A. in Law, and Sorbonne, Paris, 1959-1964 where he earned Ph.D. in Law.
Religious and political beliefs
Turabi has espoused progressive Islamist ideas, such as the embrace of democracy, healing the breach between the Sunni and the Shia, integrating `art, music, singing` into religion, and expanding the rights of women, where he noted:
“The Prophet himself used to visit women, not men, for counseling and advice. They could lead prayer. Even in his battles, they are there! In the election between Othman and Ali to determine who will be the successor to the Prophet, they voted!”.
He said, “I want women to work and become part of public life because the home doesn’t require much work anymore, what with all the appliances.” During an interview on Al-Arabiya TV in 2006, Al-Turabi describes the requirement of hijab as applying only to the Prophet’s wives, saying hijab was “a curtain in the Prophet’s room. Naturally, it was impossible for the Prophet’s wife to sit there when people entered the room.” He opposed death penalty for apostasy from Islam and opposed Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence fatwa against Salman Rushdie. He declared Islamist organizations “too focused on narrow historical debates and behavioral issues of what should be forbidden, at the expense of” economic and societal development and eliminating Muslim backwardness.
Al-Turabi also laid out his vision for a Sharia law that would be applied gradually instead of forcefully, and would only apply to Muslims, who would share power with the Christians in a federal system. However after Turabi came to power in a military coup d’état that overthrew a democratic government, his regime was characterized by harsh human rights violations rather than progressive or liberal theology. Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and join against the common enemies, Israel and The United States.
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